Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chickens That Are Free to Come and Go

HEAD’S UP: Yours Truly is still in North Louisiana trying to be the best patient advocate possible for my ailing Ma Ma. I arrived a few days after Old Girl was admitted to hospital on 31 January in atrocious shape. While much better, she is not yet well enough for me to return to Gotham where there are at least eight million stories. Dutiful daughter that I am, I remain in the southern branch of the family seat. Happily, I do have stories. And I plan to tell them.

During my walk earlier this morning, I heard a spot on the radio advertising a local elementary school’s 2,500-strong Easter egg hunt. How timely, for it is today that I lay down some “nutritional” tracks about eggs and flour.

This is part of my humble initiative to make the world a better, healthier height-weight proportionate place through basic nutritional education and, with the admonition that at least moderate exercise is mandatory for any healthy lifestyle. With these mandates and with Easter food intake on the brain, I had some choice words yesterday about chocolate and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Accompanied by a dizzying array of statistics that I don’t believe are of the, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics” variety, I put forth some compelling reasons to consume both with care – or not at all. For details, read Tomorrow, I conclude with trans fats and soft drinks.

They have been the objects of scrutiny – no doubt we’re all familiar with their role in causing high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), which can cause arteries to clog and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. This bit from the American Heart Association and pretty much the consensus view of the medical community.

On, the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective states, “Although eggs used to be considered an ideal protein source, in the past three decades they have been wrongly accused of contributing to heart disease. As a result, some people have switched to eating only low-fat egg whites or using egg substitutes.

However, BWHBC gives the OK to those in “good general health” to have no more than seven eggs a week, regardless of how prettily they are decorated. Eggs are also one of several food sources of Vitamin D, which helps build strong bones, and protects against heart attack and high blood pressure. They are also nutrient-rich relative to their calories. And eggs from free-range chickens, BWHBC adds, “fed organic diets high in essential fatty acids contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids - more than eggs from chickens in conventional factories.”

In other words, the best and most healthful eggs to buy for the Easter egg hunt or to make meringue for lemon pie or for omelets or for just throwing in the face of some deserving body – these eggs would originate from chickens that are allowed to roam around as they did in my grandparents’ large backyard – to my great shame. They would not be packed in cages like sardines. These would be from chickens that are fed grains – chicken feed is what my grandfather called it – as opposed to say, other chickens. One example is perhaps the large brown Farmhouse Eggs that I picked up at Brookshire’s. They are from natural, grain-fed, roaming (hopefully more than five minutes a day, which is the minimum USDA requirement), nesting, cage-free hens.

Like chickens, humans need grains, too. As the AHA points out, “dietary fiber from whole grains, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease."

Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, corn, or another cereal – without any part of the grain being stripped – is a whole grain. Whole grains are one of two major types of grains. The other is refined grains. Unlike refined grains, whole grains are also filling, which can slow weight gain and its side effects.

Unfortunately, when refined grains are ground into flour, for instance, the bran and germ that are the core of any whole grain are stripped. Most of the B-vitamins and iron are taken, but some are restored after processing to "enrich" the flour. However, the fiber is taken and not added back, negating virtually all of the nutritional value of enriched flour. In other words, white bread does nothing to help reduce cholesterol levels or the likelihood of heart problems. Same story for all of the mouthwatering cakes and pies made using enriched flour. And, yes, even for wheat bread if it is not made with 100 percent whole grain flour, meaning the flour has not been enriched. Because it did not need to be. Because none of its nutrients were ever removed.

Confusing, I know. It took me 20 minutes to choose a loaf of bread last week, and when I got home I realized I’d bought the wrong thing. It was made from “wheat flour.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Not so fast! Wheat flour is enriched because it is made from refined grains. “Whole wheat flour” and “100% wheat flour,” are made from whole grains.

Incidentally, I found no proper flour in Monroe until after I visited the health food store, Fiesta Nutrition Center. It stocks whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour and unbleached flour from my brand of choice, Arrowhead Mills, which I buy from my favorite health food store in Manhattan. On a visit to Brookshire's just yesterday, I found three good flours: Gold Medal All Natural Whole Wheat Flour; Hodgson Mill Old Fashioned Whole Grain 100% Stone Ground All Natural Rye Flour, and King Arthur Premium 100% Whole Wheat Flour. FYI, the 5-lb. bag of Gold Medal is on sale for $2 with the Brookshire's shoppers' card.

Grudgingly, I returned that loaf of bread and exchanged it for Nature’s Own, a wheat bread made from 100 percent whole grains. It also contains no artificial preservatives, colors or flavors and no HFCS. As an added bonus it bears the AHA’s Heart Healthy Seal. What sealed the deal for me, however, was the first ingredient in the list: whole wheat flour. Are you listening Dr. Michael Roizen?

The man Dr. Mehmet Oz calls “The Enforcer” is very bullish on 100 percent whole grain flour. “Anything other than 100 percent whole grains means they took the good stuff out. And don't fall for the misconception that "enriched flour" is healthier than regular flour,” he writes on MR is the chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic. “The enriched means they took all the good stuff out, and put a little of it back in. Enriched flour is not much better for you than straight sugar.”

Sweet heaven!

Learn more about the issues discussed in this article at the following Web sites:;;;;;;;

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